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Bohning, Don 1933-

Bohning, Don 1933-

PERSONAL:

Born June 26, 1933. Education: Dakota Wesleyan University, graduated, 1955; also attended the American Institute for Foreign Trade in Phoenix, AZ, and did graduate work at the University of Miami.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

CAREER:

Journalist and writer. Miami Herald, Hollywood, FL, local reporter, 1959-64, then foreign correspondent based in Miami, FL, 1964-2000.

Military service: U.S. Army.

WRITINGS:

The Castro Obsession: U.S. Covert Operations against Cuba, 1959-1965, Potomac Books (Washington, DC), 2005.

Also contributor to periodicals, including Revista: The Harvard Review of Latin America and Soldier of Fortune.

SIDELIGHTS:

Don Bohning spent forty-one years at the Miami Herald as a reporter and foreign correspondent. His many assignments included coverage of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, a U.S.-backed effort to depose Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The author's book The Castro Obsession: U.S. Covert Operations against Cuba, 1959-1965 focuses on the height of the ongoing U.S. covert efforts against Cuba.

In an interview with John Simkin for the Education Forum Web site, the author noted that he wrote the book "for two reasons: to satisfy my own curiosity and to help complete the historical record." Bohning added: "I had lived in South Florida and worked for the Miami Herald at the time all the activity was secretly taking place. While one was generally aware that something was going on, its full scope began to slowly emerge with the Church Committee hearings in the mid-1970s on Alleged Assassination Plots Against Foreign Leaders." The author went on to tell Simkin that the declassification of documents following the end of the Cold War also prompted various people who had been involved in the covert operations to be more willing to speak out about the effort and their roles in it. Bohning, who retired from the Miami Herald in 2000, told Simkin: "I was … [fortunate] enough to have gotten to know some of the participants in the 1960s and others in the 1990s after they retired so [I] began doing interviews with them in the mid-1990s."

In addition to interviews, Bohning draws from articles, reports, and other documents to describe how the U.S. efforts to oust Castro did not end with the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. "It was one of the most disastrous episodes in U.S. foreign policy, and left a permanent mark on the United States' relations with its neighbors in the Caribbean and Latin America," wrote St. Petersburg Times contributor David Adams of the invasion. Despite the ignominious failure of the plan, U.S. efforts against Castro continued, and Bohning details just how extensive and long-lasting these efforts were. The author also presents his view that the willingness of the United States to interfere in Cuba's government was not only unwise but also extremely perilous.

"The legacy of the unsuccessful six-year secret war against Fidel Castro—a legacy that belongs mostly to the Kennedy brothers—is not an admirable one," the author writes in The Castro Obsession. "Among the war's many negative consequences were the consolidation of Castro's hold on Cuba, contributing to the Soviet decision to install offensive missiles on the island and spawning a cadre of exile terrorists perpetrating murder and mayhem far in excess of their relatively small numbers."

One of the U.S. actions against Cuba that the author reveals in his book was an ongoing program that included efforts to destabilize Cuba's economy and political process. The author also writes of programs involving propaganda, sabotage, assassination, and other invasion plots.

Although Bohning is interested in the overall efforts spanning a period of six years, he also writes extensively about the Bay of Pigs invasion itself, pointing out that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had determined several days before the invasion that such a covert military operation ultimately could not succeed. He also notes that some government officials, including project chief Jake Esterline and Marine Colonel Jack Hawkins, pushed to stop the planned invasion. "Bohning adds a new element to this story, describing how Esterline and Hawkins tried to cancel the invasion at the last minute," wrote Adams in the St. Petersburg Times. "Esterline even tried to resign on the eve of the invasion, expressing his ‘absolute disgust’ with the planning."

Overall, Bohning brings together a significant amount of the relevant declassified information about the U.S. efforts to depose Castro. He traces the effort from 1959 into the second year of President Lyndon Johnson's administration. In the process, he explains why President John Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy became so obsessed with disposing Castro and how these efforts were finally curtailed by Johnson.

Noting that the author's "narrative is clear," Clive Foss, writing in the Historian, commented that Bohning "gives real insights into a disastrous American policy and offers much novel information and interpretation, together with lessons for the present." In a review of the book on the Central Intelligence Agency's Web site, Brian Latell noted that the author does not explore all the reasons for the Kennedys' obsession with Castro and Cuba. Nevertheless, Latell called the book "an excellent and much needed illumination in a single comprehensive volume of all the strange and counterproductive American covert schemes that Castro has survived." Latell noted: "[Bohning] is balanced and nuanced, especially when describing some of the zanier ideas that were bandied about at Agency headquarters—an exploding seashell assassination device, a depilatory to root out Castro's signature beard, LSD to cause him to flail into delusional gyrations during a public appearance."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Bohning, Don, The Castro Obsession: U.S. Covert Operations against Cuba, 1959-1965, Potomac Books (Washington, DC), 2005.

PERIODICALS

American Spectator, December 16, 2005, James R. Whelan, review of The Castro Obsession.

Bookwatch, July, 2005, review of The Castro Obsession.

California Bookwatch, November, 2006, review of The Castro Obsession.

Choice, February, 2006, A.J. Dunar, review of The Castro Obsession, p. 1069.

Historian, spring, 2007, Clive Foss, review of The Castro Obsession, p. 99.

Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Volume 19, number 2, review of The Castro Obsession.

Library Journal, March 15, 2005, Daniel K. Blewett, review of The Castro Obsession, p. 94.

Miami Herald, May 1, 2005, Phillip Brenner, review of The Castro Obsession.

Reference & Research Book News, August, 2005, review of The Castro Obsession, p. 61; May 1, 2007, review of The Castro Obsession.

St. Petersburg Times, October 30, 2005, David Adams, "Covert, or Just Clumsy?," review of The Castro Obsession.

Washington Times, July 24, 2005, Joseph Goulden, review of The Castro Obsession.

ONLINE

Central Intelligence Agency Web site,https://www.cia.gov/ (July 16, 2008), Brian Latell, review of The Castro Obsession.

Education Forum,http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/ (May 25, 2006), John Simkin, interview with author.

Spartacus Educational,http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/ (July 16, 2008), profile of author.

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